"We need a school!"


"Charlie, we need a school!", Father Joe Smith declared to Father Charles Murphy on an autumn morning in 1945. Four years later, he received permission from Bishop Thomas Malloy to build a school and complete his dream community for the people of West Hempstead. Ground was broken for the present school building in September of 1949 and classes began in the basement of the church in September 1950. 420 pupils and 8 Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary moved into the school building in October. Our first principal, Sister Catherine Marie Walsh, managed to increase the faculty to 17 by the fall of 1953. These dedicated women taught in the school and conducted Religious Education classes for public school children each week.

The 1950’s were years of growth and change for the parish and the school. Msgr. Smith had Buckingham Road closed off to provide a larger play area for the children. The priests of the parish were frequent visitors to the classrooms of the school, especially Father Charles Murphy, who taught religion to the older classes and monitored the weekly attendance at band practice. He joined the children on school trips to Rye Beach, moderated the basketball team and cheered himself hoarse in the spring of 1955 when the girl’s team won the divisional championship. Father Murphy even admitted to curbing the enthusiasm of the eighth grade boys with a few airborne erasers. The school band was a point of pride for Msgr. Smith. When the Dodgers won the World Series in October of 1955, Msgr. Smith celebrated by granting a school holiday. By 1956, there were 900 students in the school and a lengthy waiting list. Sister Mary Myles Dolan arrived in West Hempstead in the fall of 1956 and served as the principal of the school until June 1962. During her tenure, the new wing was added to the school and dedicated in March of 1958. The school population swelled to 1250.

The decade of the sixties brought about increased interest and involvement on the part of the laity in the activities of both the parish and the school. Sister Mary Angela Buser became the third principal of the school in 1962 and faced the major changes that followed the death of Msgr. Smith in November 1966. Msgr. Richard Walsh, whose prayerfulness and dedication to the Blessed Mother were an inspiration a generation of St. Thomas students, succeeded him. The first lay School Board was installed in 1969 and the activities of the school were reported in the official parish newspaper St. Thomas the Apostle Review, more commonly called the STAR.

At the School Board meeting in June 1971, Sister Mary Angela introduced a petite young woman who would serve as the next principal. Sister Mary McCauley had a fierce determination and drive that was masked by her soft voice and gentle manner. She tackled the problems of declining enrollment, fewer teaching sisters and a growing percentage of lay faculty members. Her credo "Person as self" became the motto of the school. Under Sister Mary’s direction, students became involved in individualized instruction and the staff included a guidance counselor and special teachers for physical education art and music. The school program was growing and received a rating of E+ by an evaluating committee. On Sunday, April 27, 1975, Father Charles Murphy delivered the homily at the Mass, which commemorated the 25th anniversary of the school he so loved. In his remarks, he congratulated the faculty and staff for their dedication and guidance. The celebration continued at a Country Fair held on May 3 and 4, 1975. The schoolyard was transformed into a colo9rful midway and the entire parish joined in the games, picnics and festivities. A year later, the school children marched in the Wet Hempstead community parade to celebrate of National Bicentennial. On June 7, 1978 Father William Costello became the third Pastor of our parish following Msgr. Walsh’s retirement. The school was a priority to him, and it flourished during the early years of his administration.

In 1980 our fifth principal arrived. Sister Gracita Daly continued the tradition of excellence that marked the administrations of her predecessors. The school children jubilantly joined in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Parish at a special Mass on October 18, 1981. But the decade was marked by a decline in enrollment and I almost all parish activities. Few of the Sisters remained on the faculty. Sister "Bonnie" still worked with the children and read them stories as she had for 25 years. Sister Mary Casey became the first Dominican Sister to serve as principal in September 1985. The school now had a computer program, offered Spanish classes in the upper grades and separated the "Junior High" students from the lower grades. The Student Council was revised and both students and parents became more involved in the activities of the school. And once again, we had a school band.

By June of 1990, St. Thomas parish was experiencing financial difficulties. Our new pastor, Msgr. John Martin, was faced with declining contributions along with decreasing enrollment in the school. Despite all his efforts to the contrary, the school was downsized and tuition rose to offset the declining subsidy. Parishioners banded together to strengthen the school profile. The Enrollment and Publicity Committees were formed to publish the "Good News" about St. Thomas School. The "Catch the Spirit" Campaign began. The after school STAR program was begun and the parish community became more deeply involved in creative financing of the school and its activities.

In 1995 our enrollment began to rise. New programs were added to include 2, 3 and 4 year olds and an all-day Kindergarten. A new playground was installed for our younger students. In June of 1996 an alumni of St. Thomas School, Msgr. James Lisante was named as our new pastor and has dedicated himself to the preservation of our school.

In May of 1997, St. Thomas School received the prestigious Middle States Accreditation for Excellence in Education. Our growing enrollment necessitated the addition of 3 full time Kindergartens and aides in our Kindergarten and first grade classes. The first of three matching grants were received from the diocese for the purpose of upgrading our computer program for all grades. In 1998, Mrs. Christina Teisch became our first lay principal.

St. Thomas School has survived many changes in its fifty-year history. As we enter into this new millenium we are enjoying an upsurge in enrollment, waiting lists for many of next year’s grades and for the first time in 15 years; St. Thomas has once again become financially sound. Our graduates fare well in high school programs and among our alumni we count hundreds of successful business men and women, outstanding educators, dedicated public servants, priests and religious, and loving parents of second and third generation students in our school. We celebrate our history…